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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A sweeping federal mandate requiring employees to ensure workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 could have a “chilling” effect on Missouri businesses and health care facilities, representatives from multiple industries told lawmakers Wednesday.

President Joe Biden recently unveiled plans for employers with at least 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit weekly negative test results — a move expected to encompass about 80 million people. In addition, all federal employees and contractors doing business with the federal government will need to be vaccinated — without a weekly testing option.

Health care workers, too, will need to be vaccinated, the president said.

Although the official rules have not yet been written or unveiled, Republican state leaders such as Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt have vowed to oppose the mandates through legal means.

A handful of people attended the House Judiciary Committee hearing in opposition to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

Most of those who testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning stressed they were opposed to a sweeping vaccine mandate because of the ramifications; they were not in opposition to vaccines in general. In fact, Kara Corches from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industries said her group would also be opposed to any broad mandates prohibiting individual employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

“We believe that the Biden administration’s mandate on testing and vaccinations is the wrong approach for businesses and a severe governmental overreach,” Corches said.

Nikki Strong, executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association, said health care employees were already leaving the industry due to burnout or testing mandates.

“The entire health care industry right now, the health care system right now, is burned out. We’ve been fighting this virus for 18 months,” Strong said. “To put additional strain and pressure on our workers who — for whatever reason, whatever belief they have, whether it’s taking the vaccine, taking a test daily, or whatever that mandate may be — is going to continue to decimate our workforce.”

“The fact of the matter is, we can’t run a nursing home without staff, period. We can’t shut down for an evening because we don’t have enough staff,” she continued. “Our fear is … this mandate will drive away our staff to a point of catastrophic numbers to where facilities all across the state will shut down.”

Strong said about 85 percent of nursing home residents were vaccinated but only about 40 percent of staff had gotten the vaccine.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt vowed to fight the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine mandates at the Capitol on Sept. 15. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/CAMERON GERBER)

Several hundred people gathered in the Capitol Wednesday — a few in the hearing room, but most in the Capitol rotunda and halls — to rally against vaccine mandates, the Biden administration, and the teaching of so-called critical race theory in schools. The Judiciary Committee and rallies ran concurrently with veto session.

Schmitt along with some conservative members of the Missouri Legislature addressed those gathered Wednesday.

“People have had enough of this overreach from the federal government, and as their attorney general, I will fight for their rights every single time,” Schmitt, a U.S. Senate candidate who has challenged mask mandates and sweeping health orders as the attorney general, told The Missouri Times.

Schmitt vowed to challenge the official vaccine mandate order “all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Hundreds gathered in the Capitol to protest the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine mandate on Sept. 15. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/CAMERON GERBER)

Britany Hartzell, an organizer with Take a Stand Now Missouri, said she is a former nurse but left her job because of vaccine mandates. She said the rally is not about being against the vaccine but against mandates.

“We want to have the freedom of choice, whether we want these vaccines or not, and that’s really what the entire thing is about,” Hartzell said. “People do not want to be forced. They want it to be a choice.”

Cameron Gerber contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.

Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.

She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.

Contact Kaitlyn at kaitlyn@themissouritimes.com.

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